The activity at the 2014 non-waiver deadline was so frenetic that certain details went largely unnoticed.
Here’s one: The low-revenue Indians agreed to pay all of infielder Asdrubal Cabrera’s remaining $3.3 million when they traded him to the Nationals for infielder Zach Walters.
That fact was reported at the time, but the meaning was not. The Nationals’ owners, despite being among the wealthiest in the sport, are reluctant to add payroll in the middle of a season, according to major-league sources.
Never mind that the Nats committed $210 million to right-hander Max Scherzer last offseason; ownership’s stance also is influencing the team’s current trade discussions, sources say.
Which raises the question:
Will the Nats operate as both buyers and sellers, seeking to clear money for a significant addition by trading a player such as shortstop Ian Desmond?
Sounds crazy, but the way Desmond has struggled, the Nats actually might be better with Danny Espinosa at short, Anthony Rendon at second and Yunel Escobar at third. They certainly would be better defensively.
Desmond, who is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, hit a walk-off sacrifice fly Wednesday night. No one should be surprised if he gets hot; he has won three consecutive Silver Slugger awards at shortstop.
For the moment, however, he leads the National League with 16 errors while batting only .220 with a .602 OPS. Espinosa, on the other hand, is batting .265 with a .799 OPS while playing multiple positions.
A trade of Desmond probably is unlikely; for starters, the Nats might not do better than the draft pick they would receive if they made him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. They also would risk disrupting a clubhouse in which Desmond is an established leader.
Then again, Desmond still will be owed more than $3.5 million of his $11 million salary at the July 31 non-waiver deadline. The Nats could redirect that money to a player such as Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, Athletics closer Tyler Clippard or Athletics super-utility man Ben Zobrist, and in theory, end up better for it. Chapman and Clippard will be owed less than $3 million at the deadline, Zobrist about $2.5 million.
To this point, there is zero indication that the Nats are discussing Desmond with other clubs. But such talk would make sense if ownership indeed does not want to stretch the payroll beyond the Opening Day figure of $162 million — and if general manager Mike Rizzo determines that a shakeup in his underachieving team is needed.
STEWART TALKS TOUKI
Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart says that he generally does not read or listen to media criticism. Stewart, however, acknowledges that he has heard the widespread disapproval of his trade of right-handed pitching prospect Touki Toussaint.
The D-backs on Saturday night sent Toussaint and right-hander Bronson Arroyo to the Braves for infielder Phil Gosselin, saving the approximately $10 million that they owed Arroyo in 2015 and ’16.
Some argue that Toussaint, 19, is worth more than that while contending that the D-backs signed a lesser prospect, Cuban right-hander Yoan Lopez, for a total cost of $16.5 million.
Other say that if the D-backs wanted to trade Toussaint, they should have done it for players — particularly when they recently signed a new TV contract with FOX Sports Arizona for more than $1.5 billion.
“The truth is we did not know what Touki’s value would be if we shopped him. There is a lot of speculation on that. People are assuming it would have been better, but we don’t know.
“There was an opportunity to make a deal that gave us more flexibility today as well as next year. We took that opportunity. It’s tough to say we could have gotten more. He was drafted at No. 16, given ($2.7) million. In my opinion, that’s his value.
“To this point, he has pitched OK, he has pitched well. But guys are mentioning that he throws 96 mph. He hasn’t thrown 96 mph since he’s been here. We haven’t seen 96 once. There is some inflation of what people think Touki is.
“We think he’ll be a major-league pitcher. We don’t see it happening in the next three or four years. Maybe five or six years down the road, he’ll show up and be a major-league pitcher. But that is a long ways down the road.”
One rival executive points out that trading a prospect such as Toussaint only a year after drafting him is demoralizing to all those with the D-backs who work in scouting and player development.
Arizona, which entered Thursday just four games out of first place in the NL West, could justify the move by reinvesting the savings at the deadline.
Stewart, though, said that is not necessarily the plan.
“We have not really discussed a lot of what we’re going to do at the trade deadline,” Stewart said. “It’s a surprise to everybody — not just the general public, but also to us — that we’re playing as well as we are and that we’re in the circumstance we’re in.
“We put the team together in terms of building more toward the future than today. We’re playing well. We recognize what the areas of weakness are. We’d like more consistency from our starting pitching. Our bullpen is a weakness.”
With the trade, Stewart said, “We’re just trying to put ourselves in a position where we’re not bound up and tied up so we can’t do anything if we want to.”
MINUTE MAID PARK: THE NEXT SHARK TANK?
The Astros remain interested in White Sox right-hander Jeff Samardzija, among other available starters, according to major-league sources. And while the White Sox have not yet indicated a willingness to sell, that day could be coming soon.
Samardzija, averaging nearly seven innings per start, would be a particularly interesting complement to Astros left-handed ace Dallas Keuchel. True, Samardzija’s 4.53 ERA is well above the major-league average. But the White Sox’s defense is partly (largely?) to blame.
The Astros rank fifth in the majors in defensive efficiency, the White Sox last. Remove defense from the equation, and Samardzija’s fielding-independent pitching mark (FIP) is 3.64. His opponents are batting .341 on balls in play; the major-league average is 2.95.
The Athletics’ Scott Kazmir, a native of Houston, also would make sense for Houston — heck, any of the available starters would. The Astros almost certainly would prefer a potential free agent such as Samardzija, Kazmir or the Reds’ Johnny Cueto; the acquisition cost for a pitcher under long-term control would be higher.
FOR MARLINS’ JENNINGS, AN UPHILL FIGHT
The Marlins’ 14-21 record under Dan Jennings is actually worse than their 16-22 mark was under Mike Redmond. If the club flounders on its current nine-game homestand against the Cardinals, Dodgers and Giants — and the Fish are off to an 0-2 start — club officials might reassess whether this group can even contend.
The controversial hiring of Jennings, the team’s former general manager, will remain under scrutiny either way.
The players have grown resigned to the hiring of a manager with no prior experience, in part because they had no choice but to accept the move. They like Jennings, respect him and consider him a strong communicator, sources say. But that doesn’t mean they are comfortable with his in-game strategy.
The attention on Jennings’ handling of a pitching staff, in particular, only will grow if the Marlins rally in the NL East and play meaningful late-season games.
Jennings admits that during his first five days as manager he was “like a ship in a storm at sea.” But he says that he has adapted to his new role with the help of his coaching staff, and one club official describes him as “totally up to speed.”
While it’s true that none of Jennings’ rival managers in the NL East is considered a particularly gifted strategist, all of them are more experienced. The expected return of right-hander Jose Fernandez on July 2 will give the Marlins a lift. But the question remains: How would Jennings fare if the Fish got into an actual race?
BUILDING A NEW CARPENTER
Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter, after missing four games in early May due to “extreme fatigue,” says he is becoming more aware of his body, learning to understand when and when not to push. Still, for a self-described “grinder,” the process is not easy.
“For me, the hardest part is that I want to be out there, for myself obviously but also for the guys,” said Carpenter, who leads the National League All-Star voting at third base. “I kind of play the game with a football mentality. Sometimes that can be to your own detriment.”
Carpenter says he has come to admire players who appear laid-back, who make the game look easy. Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano is one, but Carpenter’s teammate, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, might be an even better example.
“It seems like a bad thing,” Carpenter says of Peralta’s seemingly care-free approach. “But being around Jhonny every day, he works as hard as anyone, he plays the game right. He just handles it in a different way.
“It’s amazing. I envy his ability to show up to the field, play the game and when it’s over, it’s over. He’s not thinking about it. He’s someone who the game doesn’t wear on as much, mentally and physically.”
BUXTON: THE FASTEST SINCE?
The speed of Twins rookie center fielder Byron Buxton is a source of fascination even for opponents such as the Cardinals, who recently played four games against Minnesota.
Cardinals right fielder Jason Heyward said that Buxton reminded him of Melvin Upton Jr. on the bases, only with the quickness of Dee Gordon.
Peralta, a 13-year veteran, said that Buxton left him no chance to move his legs on ground balls to short, comparing him to Ichiro during the Japanese star’s early days with the Mariners.
Ichiro, a left-handed hitter, added to the degree of difficulty for opposing infielders by taking practically a running start out of the batter’s box. Buxton is a right-handed hitter.
Personal note: Deion Sanders was the fastest I saw going home-to-third; I remember him hitting a triple in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in a spring-training game and seemingly reaching third in 12 steps.
Buxton, though, may force me to reassess my opinion; he is positively electrifying.
AROUND THE HORN
● Here’s more from Stewart on the D-backs:
“People have asked about our starting pitching. No one is asking about our infield depth yet. Needless to say, we’re not moving (shortstop Nick) Ahmed. It’s not very likely we would move Chris Owings. Those guys make up the core of our team. That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to do moving forward.”
● The Brewers, to this point, are attracting little interest in closer Francisco Rodriguez, who is 15 for 15 in save opportunities with a 1.00 ERA, 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 27 innings.
The likely reason: K-Rod is owed $9.5 million after this season — $7.5 million in 2016 salary and a $2 million buyout on a $6 million club option for 2017.
Left-hander Neal Cotts, on the other hand, figures to be in demand, perhaps even from his previous team, the Rangers. Cotts’ strikeout-to-walk ratio against left-handed hitters this season is 17-to-1.
● The Cardinals’ urgency to add a starter appears to be diminishing.
Club officials now expect that right-hander Michael Wacha can exceed 200 innings and righty Carlos Martinez 170. Left-hander Tyler Lyons has pitched better since returning from Triple-A, and lefty Marco Gonzales could return from an impingement in his shoulder around the All-Star break.
One injury, of course, could change everything, and the team has no way of knowing whether lefty Jaime Garcia will remain healthy enough to sustain his recent excellence. But at the moment, the bigger need is a left-handed hitting first baseman to alternate with Mark Reynolds. Someone like the White Sox’s Adam LaRoche could help offensively and defensively.
● Finally, words cannot express how much people around baseball will miss Darryl Hamilton, who died Monday after being shot by a former girlfriend who then committed suicide.
Hamilton’s violent death was all the more shocking because of the way he went about his life — always kind, always gentle, always smiling. It is worth remembering, too, that he was an underrated player.
Hamilton was a career .291 hitter with a .360 on-base percentage and .385 slugging mark. He made only 14 errors in 9,856 2/3 (!) defensive innings in the outfield. He helped four teams reach the postseason — the 1996 Rangers, 1997 Giants and 1999 and 2000 Mets.
As good a player as Hamilton was, he was an even better person, someone whom I always loved seeing and working with at MLB Network.
I can’t believe, I refuse to believe, that he is gone.